Smokeless tobacco use among U.S. kids and teens has leveled off

About 5% of students in U.S. middle and high schools use smokeless tobacco products, a figure that has been stable over the past decade, a new study finds.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

After years of decline, the rate of smokeless tobacco use among young people has leveled off, new research shows.

In 2011, 5.2% of middle school and high school students in the U.S. reported using snuff, chewing tobacco or dipping tobacco at least once in the 30 days before they were interviewed for the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which is conducted by the Centers for Disease Patrol and Prevention. That’s essentially the same as the 5.3% of young people who were considered smokeless tobacco users in 2000.

The products are continuing to fall out of favor for the youngest kids in the survey, with use falling by an average of 4.6% per year among 9- to 11-year-olds. In addition, smokeless tobacco use among kids between the ages of 12 and 14 fell by an average of 3.4% per year.


But tobacco companies gained a little ground among 15- to 17-year-olds, with use rising nearly 1% per year on average. Among high school students, the trends were the same regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

There were no changes in smokeless tobacco use for students ages 18 or older.

The findings appear in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The researchers, from the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, along with one colleague from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, speculated that new products like “moist snuff” helped the tobacco industry hold on to smokeless tobacco customers. In addition, companies are not prohibited from using flavored products or free samples to entice potential customers, they noted.

Lower taxes on smokeless tobacco products relative to cigarettes may have played a role as well, the researchers added.

Many states have begun to restrict online and mail-order sales of smokeless tobacco, and authorities have stepped up enforcement of age verification rules in places where smokeless tobacco products are sold. The researchers said these efforts may have helped reduce sales among younger students.

You can read a summary of the study online at the JAMA website.

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